19 January 2019
Repentance and forgiveness
‘If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.’ Luke 17: 3
Jesus is clearly saying here that repentance should bring forgiveness. Yet people can say ‘Sorry’ without real repentance, for this involves an acknowledgement of the hurt caused and the intention to try not to hurt again. A genuine change of heart is expressed in practical terms by a change of actions. Thus, before considering any suggestion that a battered wife should return to her abusing husband, proof of his repentance needs to be seen in the form of major and significant change. The risk of danger persists in any situation where repentance is in words alone and not shown by deeds.
Forgiveness is a two-way process. At the time of his crucifixion, our Lord’s executioners were clearly unrepentant. Yet Jesus prayed for their forgiveness. (Luke 23: 34) He left the door open for their possible change of heart. Though his sacrifice was to give us all the opportunity of forgiveness, he could not (and does not) give it to those rejecting it. Yet the offer was there, even for those who were actually killing him, should they (and others) later repent.
One of the thieves crucified with him, whilst he was dying, repented and turned in faith to Jesus. He received forgiveness, whereas the other criminal, hurling insults at Jesus, was dying whilst still unrepentant. (Luke 23: 39) The offer of forgiveness was there for him too, but evidently there was not the repentance with which to embrace it. God’s love is unconditional, but his forgiveness patiently invites our response. Acknowledgement of sin and true repentance for it are both needed in order to bring home the forgiveness which Jesus died to give.
Read: Luke 23: 39–43; Acts 2: 36–39.